When it comes to money, there can be a lot of emotions attached. Often we ignore our finances and credit history out of fear, shame, or embarrassment. But reviewing your free credit report can be empowering.
A friend of mine recently went through a divorce and one of the first things I suggested she do was to pull her credit report.
They were the type of family who bought many things on credit. At one point her now ex-husband came home with a boat that he had financed without even consulting her.
My concern for my friend was that there could be things on her credit report that she was unaware of.
But for months she ignored my call to action. Maybe she was too busy or prioritized other things. But my thought was that she was scared of what her credit report might reveal.
Taking small steps
Momma, I’m here to tell you that checking your free credit report can be empowering.
By doing this one simple step, you are taking a step towards understanding and controlling your finances.
Taking control of your money or trying to change your financial situation can feel overwhelming.
Obtaining and reviewing your credit report is an easy simple step that can make a big difference.
One of the benefits of getting your free credit report is that there is no score. No number, just information.
Your credit report is about gathering that information, understanding what the situation is, and verifying that the information is correct. Obtaining it is a smart money move you can make today.
And if you want to improve your credit or credit score one of the easiest first steps is to review your free credit report. The Hawthorne Effect states that people act differently when they know that they are being watched.
Lasting change won’t happen instantly. Where you are today was not achieved overnight and change will take time too.
But you might be pleasantly surprised by the positive changes to your credit history and credit sore after a couple of years of monitoring.
What is a credit report?
A credit report is a record of your credit and borrowing history.
Here’s what you can expect to find in your credit report:
- Demographic/personal information – such as your name, address and SIN number
- Credit account information – this includes information such as type of account (credit card, cell phone, etc.), date account was opened, credit limit or loan amount, current balance, and payment history
- Inquiry information – a record of every time your credit report has been requested
- Bankruptcies – if there are any, they may remain on your credit report for up to 14 years depending on your bankruptcy history
- Collections – these are overdue accounts that have been sent to into collections
How to get your free credit report in Canada?
In Canada you are entitled to obtain your credit report for free once a year from both Equifax and TransUnion (the credit reporting agencies in Canada).
A good rule of thumb is to obtain your credit report every 6 months from one of the agencies. Then you will be able to review your report twice a year while staying within the free once a year per agency parameters.
There are 3 ways that you can obtain your free credit report in Canada from Equifax.
To get your free credit report mailed to your home address you will need to complete the application form (you can find it here) and mail it in along with a copy of the front and back of 2 pieces of government-issued identification.
You can also choose to fax the form to the number provided on the application.
Once you have submitted your form (by mail or fax), you can expect to receive your credit report mailed to your home address within 5-10 business days.
You can obtain your free credit report by phone by calling Equifax’s Interactive Voice Response system at 1-800-465-7166.
But be aware that you to obtain your credit report by phone from Equifax you will need to provide your Social Insurance Number (SIN). If you do not feel comfortable doing this, then choose one of the other options.
And lastly, you can choose to obtain your free credit report in person by visiting one of Equifax’s four offices.
Equifax has offices in Montreal, Toronto, Halifax, and Charlottetown.
If you decide to visit one of these offices to receive your credit report in person, the applications are available on-site. And you will receive a copy of your report once your identity has been verified.
TransUnion has a four different ways you can obtain your free credit report from them. The first thing that you will need to know is that TransUnion calls your credit report a consumer disclosure.
You can access your consumer disclosure for free from TransUnion online. Here is the website you can access to do so.
Like Equifax, you can also complete the application form and mail it into TransUnion to get your free consumer disclosure.
Along with your completed application form, you will also need to include a copy of both sides (front and back) of 2 pieces of government-issued identification. Transunion lists acceptable identification here.
TransUnion also has physical offices in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and Ontario. You can obtain a copy of your free consumer disclosure at any of these offices by bringing along 2 pieces of government-issued identification.
And lastly, you can call TransUnion to get a copy of your consumer disclosure mailed directly to your home address.
To do this all you need to do is call TransUnion’s Interactive Voice Response system at 1-800-663-9980 (Prompt 1) and answer a series of questions to verify your identity.
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Why should I obtain my credit report from both Equifax and TransUnion?
While there are 2 credit reporting agencies in Canada, lenders are not required to report to both of them. For this reason, your credit report (and score) could be different with either agency.
Obtaining your credit report annually from both agencies ensures that you get the full picture of your credit situation.
What is the difference between a credit report and a credit score?
The big difference between a credit report and a credit score is that a report has all of the information whereas the score is a number. This number represents the information in the report.
The two are not exclusive.
Your credit report will affect your credit score. And the things that make up your credit score will be represented in your credit report.
Your credit score is influenced by your payment history, the amount of debt you have, and how long you have been using credit.
All of these components are shown in detail in your free credit report; just not the score.
How to check your credit score for free in Canada
There are a number of ways to see your credit score for free in Canada. Most of the big banks offer this as an option once a month for free.
Personally I have never used any of these companies because my primary bank offers free credit score monitoring once a month. And because I’m a bit paranoid about providing my personal information to some companies.
That being said, the first thing you will want to do is check your free credit report. This simple action can be a judgement-free zone and directly impacts your credit score.
Why should I check my free credit report?
Mistakes happen. So does fraud.
These are the 2 main reasons that you will want to check your credit report regularly (even if just annually).
It is a good practice to get your free credit report and go over everything that is on there. Make sure that you understand all of the entries.
This is especially important if you are (or were) married. There is always a chance that your spouse obtained something in both of your names and that it will show up on your credit report and affect your credit score.
Errors and fraudulent entries on your credit report could be affecting your credit score without you knowing it. This is why it is important to check.
Reviewing your credit report is not about making judgements (or feeling judged). It is about gathering and verifying information.
A benefit of obtaining your free credit report is that often it does not include your credit score. Without a number directly attached, your credit report is less likely to bring with it emotions.
And remember momma, you get to decide what emotions are attached to your credit report. You can decide to feel empowered by making responsible financial choices. Or you can choose to be ashamed of things you’ve done in your past.
If there are entries on your credit report that are errors or you think are fraud, then you will want to do something about that.
What to do if you find errors in your credit report?
If you find an error in your credit report the first thing you want to do is contact the specific lender. For example, if you notice that an account you have closed is still open – call that specific lender to confirm the closure of the account in question.
Now, if you suspect fraud then you definitely want to contact the lender. The next step will be to contact Equifax and Transunion directly to report the fraud.
Make sure you contact both Equifax and Transunion as they don’t share information and creditors are not required to report to both of them.
If you suspect your SIN (Social Insurance Number) has been impacted, then report that to Service Canada as well.
Reporting Fraud to Equifax
When reporting fraud to Equifax, there are 2 options. You can report an identity alert or a fraud warning.
An identity alert is a note on your credit report along with a phone number. If a lender sees this on your credit report it is recommended that they contact you directly at the phone number listed before extending credit.
This type of fraud reporting would be appropriate if you lost your wallet or had your ID stolen.
The identity alert will stay on your Equifax credit report for 6 years unless you request in writing for it to be removed.
A formal fraud warning on your credit report is placed there when there is a confirmed case of fraud. This can only be set up over the phone with Equifax by calling 1-800-465-7166.
Like the identity alert, the fraud warning will stay on your credit report for 6 years unless you request in writing for it to be removed. To have it removed you will also have to supply a copy of 2 pieces of ID.
Reporting Fraud to TransUnion
To report a potential fraudulent alert on your TransUnion credit report you have 3 options:
- Online through their Online Fraud Services portal
- Over the one by calling 1-800-663-9980 or
- In writing
Reporting the potential fraud will put a fraud alert on your credit report with your phone number. Lenders are advised to review the full credit report and contact you directly at the phone number listed before extending credit.
Just like Equifax, the TransUnion fraud alert will remain on your credit report for 6 years unless you request in writing otherwise.
At no time when you’re reviewing your free credit report should you feel embarrassed or ashamed. You are the only one who can see this report and there is no need to share it with anyone.
If you feel those negative emotions coming over you, stop and give yourself some credit for taking steps to understand your financial situation. Act like a detective and verify that the information is correct and look for any errors that may have occurred.
Don’t let fear, shame or embarrassment stop you from checking your free credit report at least once a year. As you can see it is a simple step that can make a big difference.
And as for my friend? She recently asked me for help in obtaining her free credit report. I provided her with all the information and now it’s up to her.